On Jan. 11, 1999, David Temple says he came home to what looked like a home invasion.
The gate was open and a window on the backdoor had been broken. Panicking, Temple said he picked up his 3-year-old son Evan, who had been out with his father running errands, and ran across the street to their then-neighbor Mike Ruggiero’s house. He pounded on the door to get Ruggiero to open up.
“David’s usually very quiet, so for him to come over and be banging on the door, you knew something was going on,” said Peggy Ruggiero, Mike Ruggiero’s wife. “He just shoved [his son Evan] into my husband and said, ‘Call 911. Someone’s broken [into] the house.’ My husband turned around, shoved Evan in my arms.”
Mike Ruggiero said he yelled for David Temple to wait up, but he was already sprinting back home. There, Temple says he found his eight-month-pregnant wife Belinda Temple lying facedown in their master bedroom closet with a gunshot wound to the head.
He immediately called 911, according to Dick DeGuerin, David Temple’s former defense attorney.
Belinda Temple’s gruesome murder shook the quiet town of Katy, Texas. Twenty years later, David Temple has been convicted of his wife’s murder not once, but twice. Yet today, his fate still hangs in the balance.
A small-town couple builds a life together
Originally from Nacogdoches, Texas, Belinda Temple’s father Tom Lucas described her as a person who “always had a smile on her face. She loved life and she loved people.”
Known as Belinda Lucas at the time, she met David Temple at Steven F. Austin University in Nacogdoches in 1989, the same year he helped the football team win its first conference championship in the school’s history. David Temple was a linebacker throughout high school and college — nicknamed the “Temple of Doom” — and Belinda Lucas was also an athlete who attended the university.
“Belinda was…quite an athlete, and I’m sure that’s probably what attracted David to her, being, you know, the sports big man on campus star that he was,” said Andy Kahan, director of victim services and advocacy at Crime Stoppers Houston and a spokesperson for the Lucas family.
The two quickly fell in love, and after about a year of dating, they became engaged. David Temple proposed on the football field.
Together, David and Belinda Temple went on to acquire master’s degrees in education. They had their first child Evan Temple in 1995 and, shortly afterward, they moved back to David Temple’s hometown of Katy.
David and Belinda Temple had begun building a life together in Katy, a small town known for its rice farms, railroad and reputation as the waterfowl hunting capital of the world. Katy was the kind of town where you would “wave to your neighbors,” Buck Bindeman, a witness in David Temple’s second trial, said on the stand.
Both Temples started working in high schools. Belinda Temple became a special education teacher at Katy High School, her husband’s alma mater, and David Temple became a teacher and football coach at Alief Hastings High School.
In the summer of 1998, Belinda Temple found out that she was pregnant with a girl, whom she decided to name Erin. She and David Temple were dedicated parents, friends said, so at the time it seemed like another child would be a welcome addition to the family.
In her excitement, Belinda Temple set up a nursery in her home all by herself and painted it “a beautiful bright yellow,” according to Natalie Scott, a former neighbor. She said that in early January, when Belinda Temple gave her a tour of the baby’s room, the mother-to-be told her she was less than a month away from Erin’s due date.
Jan. 11, 1999: The day of the murder
On Jan. 11, 1999, Evan Temple’s daycare called Belinda Temple to tell her he didn’t seem to be feeling well and asked her to take him home. But with a busy day ahead of her, she began trying to reach her husband at his job. At first, he was nowhere to be found, but finally, around noon, she reached him.
“She was just like, ‘I don’t know where he’s at. He should be at work. I can’t get a hold of him,” Stacy Nissley, one of Belinda Temple’s friends, testified at trial. “[It was] probably the most frustrated I’d seen her.”
Belinda Temple picked up Evan Temple and took him home. When her husband arrived, she headed back to school.
Belinda Temple left work at around 3:30 p.m. that day. She stopped at her husband’s parent’s home to pick up some homemade soup and then went home. David Temple says that when his wife arrived, he left to run errands with his son.
David Temple says he returned home at around 5:35 p.m. that day. At this time, he says when he found the gate open and the back door broken, he ran to the Ruggiero home and subsequently discovered his wife’s dead body and called 911.
“Does she have a pulse?” the 911 dispatcher said.
“No, she’s dead. Oh God. Oh, Jesus Christ,” David Temple responded.
Belinda Temple had died from a shotgun blast to the back of the head. Police determined that she was shot with a 12-gauge shotgun based on the size of the wound. However, they were unable to find a shotgun in the house during their investigation — only two rifles.
The murder had turned the normally quiet neighborhood into a hotbed of tension as police searched for a suspect. But as the crime scene investigation continued, authorities began to realize that what initially appeared to be a burglary wasn’t matching what they saw at the scene.
“As an investigator, you just know when you see something that doesn’t look right,” said Sgt. Dean Holtke of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, adding that the scene looked staged. “Where you would expect to see glass from a broken door, you don’t see it, and where you don’t expect to see it, there it is.”
It wasn’t only the door, though. Police said drawers had been opened, but otherwise undisturbed. Jewelry left out in plain sight hadn’t been taken.
That night, investigators brought David Temple in for questioning. He told police that his wife had gotten home around 3:45 p.m. that day and that she went upstairs to lay down. While she was resting, he said, he took Evan Temple to the park before going to the Brookshire Brothers grocery store and then Home Depot.
There were inconsistencies in David Temple’s statement, according to former Harris County Detective Chuck Leithner. For example, he said that when he asked David Temple to clarify the name of the park that he and Evan Temple went to, “he gave two different parks.”
The timing of David Temple’s movements — as well as when his wife was killed — would become crucial to prosecutors’ case against him. And although they had yet to find a possible motive, it wasn’t long before they discovered that David Temple was having an affair.
Police investigate Belinda Temple’s murder
Four days after the murder, police interviewed three children who lived in the house behind the Temples. The kids told police they had been watching a movie after returning home from school and that they heard a “big boom” like a “gunshot.” Based on the scene in the movie that the kids remembered was playing when they heard the sound, police said they determined it to be around 4:35 p.m.
Investigators also looked at surveillance video from Brookshire Brothers and Home Depot. David Temple was seen on these videos around the time that the police believed his wife might have been shot. His alibi, it seemed, was airtight.
It was around this time that Paul Looney, David Temple’s attorney at the time, contacted authorities to tell them about rumors he’d been hearing about another neighbor of the Temples: Riley Joe Sanders III.
“[He] lived next door to her, and went to school at Katy High School,” said Natalie Scott, a former neighbor. “She had him in some of her special ed classes.”
Temple’s defense team said Sanders was known for cutting class often, and after Belinda Temple complained to his parents about their son skipping school, his parents revoked his driving privileges. Looney implied that this might have sparked a grudge for Sanders, which Sanders denied at trial.
“You take a teenager’s car and you might as well take their testicles,” he said. “And it was because of the lady next door.”
Romy Kaplan, another one of David Temple’s defense attorneys, said that Sanders was the “most interviewed and interrogated suspect out of everybody. The statements that he gave police were all over the place.” Police cleared Sanders as a suspect during their investigation.
As the investigation continued, police turned to some of Belinda Temple’s friends, who told them that she was not in a happy marriage.
“When she was with us, she laughed, we talked. We just had a great time,” said Marianne Norwood, who was friends with Belinda Temple. “One time, I do remember we were eating and that was about the time the ‘[La] Macarena’ was popular, and we all were at the table doing all this and everything, and all of a sudden, she just stopped. I looked over…and he was looking at her. He was very controlling. She did what he said [to] do.”
David Temple also spent an increasing amount of time away from home. Quinton Harlan, who coached football with Temple, testified that Temple “often” went to happy hours, bars and strip clubs.
Detectives discovered that David Temple had been having an affair with Heather Scott, a colleague at Hastings’ Ninth Grade Center, that began shortly before Belinda Temple died. At first, David Temple and Scott tried to downplay their relationship. But as investigators pushed further, their affair began to reveal itself.
“I would see him a little more often, and I think a couple of times he came over to our townhouse,” Tara Engler, Heather Scott’s former roommate, testified in court. “He seemed to be very fond of her. He was very complimentary and attentive to her.”
David Temple’s relationship to Heather Scott had gotten serious by the time the holidays came around. For the New Year, he lied to his wife, telling her that he was going on a hunting trip when he was actually getting away with Heather Scott, Kahan said.
Heather Scott later said during David Temple’s trial that she felt guilty that she was dating a married man and told Temple the week before Belinda was murdered that she wanted to end it. However, she testified that a few days later they both professed their love for each other.
Police could not pin David Temple to the murder, and the medical examiner could not pinpoint the time of death.
In the years following Belinda Temple’s murder, police put up a billboard offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of Belinda Temple’s killer. They ran forensics tests on David Temple’s shoes for blood and glass — the results were negative. And they sent clothes from both Belinda and David Temple to the FBI crime lab for further testing even though they knew it would take a while for results to come back.
In June 2001, a little over two years after Belinda Temple had been killed, David Temple and Heather Scott got married.
David Temple is arrested, goes to first trial
Four years after Belinda Temple’s death, the FBI crime lab results from the scene came back. The results showed gunshot residue found on the clothes Belinda Temple was wearing the day she was killed matched that found on the clothing David Temple was wearing that same day.
David Temple was arrested in late November 2004 and he went to trial for the first time in October 2007.
His defense team tried to discredit the gunshot residue evidence.
“What we discovered was that the lab for the FBI shared a ventilation system with a shooting range, which means that all this gunshot residue from the shooting range goes up into the vents and then comes back down into the laboratory,” DeGuerin said.
A judge ruled in the defense’s favor and the evidence was tossed out.
Prosecutors continued, arguing that with his unhappy marriage and a new mistress, David Temple had a motive to get rid of his wife.
At the conclusion of the first trial, a jury convicted David Temple of murder and sentenced him to life in prison.
As he served time, Heather Scott cared for his son, Evan Temple.
“Heather, for all her misgivings in the beginning of the relationship, turned out to be a wonderful woman who did a lot of great things and raised Evan to be a wonderful guy,” said Kaplan, David Temple’s defense attorney.
Temple’s defense successfully negotiates for a second trial
David Temple’s legal saga was far from over. Five years after his first conviction, Temple’s trial attorney Dick DeGuerin said he got a call from one of Riley Joe Sanders’ friends, Daniel Glasscock. DeGuerin said Glasscock told him he believed that he had heard Sanders confess to being involved with a murder a few days after Belinda Temple was found dead.
It’s a claim that Temple’s defense team later used in their appeal. According to Craig Malisow, a former reporter for the Houston Press, Glasscock told Temple’s defense team that he was at Sanders’ house and that as he was returning from a bathroom break, he heard Sanders talking about a burglary that went wrong where Sanders said they had to shoot a dog and put it in the closet.
Malisow said that Glasscock believed the word “dog” was a codeword for Belinda Temple.
The defense team wanted to know if there was information that had been withheld from them during Temple’s first trial. An investigator with the district attorney’s office found some 1,400 pages of offense reports, examinations and other investigations, including information on Sanders, had been withheld from or handed over to the defense only during the trial.
Armed with that disclosure, Temple’s defense argued that the conviction should be overturned. In 2016, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and granted a new trial.
David Temple’s second trial began in July of this year, 20 years after his wife’s murder. He had been free for about two-and-a-half years. But it wasn’t until he was in the midst of his second trial that his then-wife Heather Scott Temple unexpectedly filed for divorce.
During the second trial, David Temple’s defense attorneys tried their hardest to implicate Sanders in Belinda Temple’s murder.
Police never found the murder weapon used on Belinda Temple but they were able to determine that the shell used to kill her was a double-aught buckshot shell used for hunting deer.
Sanders’ father testified that he had given his son permission to use his shotguns whenever he wanted to go shooting. DeGuerin said the wadding found in Belinda Temple was from a federal shotgun shell from a 12-gauge shotgun, which he said was “the same kind of shotgun shell that was in the Riley Joe Sanders shotgun.”
“That would seem to me [to be] the strongest evidence that we could have had,” he said.
Sanders, now 37 years old, testified during the second trial that on the day of Belinda Temple’s murder, he had skipped the last period of school with Cody Ray Ellis, a friend in the group, to smoke marijuana. He said that after that, he dropped Ellis off at home and that a couple more friends came over to Sanders’ house.
Sanders said they then all left to look for weed. Unsuccessful, they returned to Sanders’ home, after which he said they left him alone. He said he then “passed out.” Sanders says his father later woke him, and he went outside to find police and news crews surrounding the Temples’ home.
Sanders, it seemed, couldn’t recall much regarding the Temples while on the stand.
“When he gets on the stand, [he] does what a lot of people do when cases have been drawn out for years and years and years,” said Brian Rogers, the Houston Chronicle’s former legal affairs reporter. “He blames his memory on details that may help, maybe hurt and who really knows.”
To this day, Sanders has denied any involvement in Belinda Temple’s murder. He was never charged and has been cleared by police.
As the defense pushed their argument that Sanders had committed the crime, prosecutors maintained that David Temple had killed his wife. Prosecutors did their best to argue that at one point David Temple had possessed a 12-gauge shotgun and that he was hunter at the time of Belinda Temple’s death. In addition, during the trial it was established that David Temple’s family owned 12-gauge shotguns.
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Prosecutors argued that there was a window of time between David Temple leaving Brookshire Brothers and arriving at Home Depot during which he could have disposed of the murder weapon.
Even though David Temple told police that his wife arrived home after work at 3:45 p.m., at trial, his father testified that Belinda Temple was still at their house until 3:55 p.m. before she drove home with the soup for her son. Based on that, the defense argued that David Temple didn’t have enough time to kill his wife between 4:12 p.m. — when they estimated that Belinda Temple arrived home — and 4:19 p.m., when they estimated that David Temple left to run errands. He was seen on video surveillance entering Brookshire Brothers at 4:32 p.m.
Prosecutors, however, suggested that David Temple didn’t do it all at once — that he still had time to kill Belinda Temple during that seven-minute window before leaving to run errands and then staged the burglary when he returned home, before bringing their son Evan to their neighbor’s house and calling 911.
A jury ultimately convicted David Temple for the murder of his wife for a second time.
Two hours after the guilty verdict, those involved in the trial returned for the sentencing phase.
The defense called Evan Temple to the stand. Now 24 years old, Evan Temple said that he considered Heather Scott, the woman who raised him, to be his mother, and that he “100%” believed his father did not kill his biological mother.
In the defense’s closing statements, Schneider said, “Conventional wisdom tells us that I should accept your verdict or respect your verdict, and I can’t do that… Evan has, despite being separated from his father, still has that unwavering belief that… David has served… he was in custody for 10 years, separated from his son.”
Following the tumultuous trial, the jury spent 20 hours trying to come up with a sentence, which ranged from probation to life in prison. In the end, the jurors were deadlocked, thereby forcing the judge to declare a mistrial in the punishment phase.
“I was dumbfounded,” Schneider said. “That was the last thing I expected. … Evan may have touched them. I know that two people were at probation. There were six in the middle of 30 to 40 years, and then four wanted life.”
David Temple’s bond was set at $1 million in August. But for now, he remains behind bars as he awaits a re-examination of the evidence, which is scheduled for March 2020, when a third jury will be seated to determine his punishment.
“There’s no ifs, ands or buts,” Kahan said, “David Temple is a cold blooded diabolical murderer who deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison. His family can visit him. Belinda’s family has to visit her in a grave.”
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